Do you remember doing calisthenics in your gym class? You might recall the part where you had to try to touch your toes by bending over from a standing position or while sitting on the floor with your legs extended.
You probably did these stretches at or close to the start of the class or after playing field hockey or some other sport.
The theory behind all that stretching was that it was a good way to avoid muscle cramps or pain after exercise. In reality, stretching to maintain or increase your flexibility as you enter your 60s and beyond is very important for your health.
This is true whether or not you regularly exercise. Many boomers make it a point to try and walk 10,000 steps a day or eat healthier foods but ignore stretching.
Stretching to maintain flexibility is especially important for boomers since joint flexibility tends to decrease as you age. There is some evidence that after 71 men show an accelerated decline in both upper and lower bodies, while women tend to have a constant rate of decline in the lower body.
How much of a decline are you looking at? Well, flexibility may decline by up to 50 percent in some joints. Since the decrease is very gradual, you may not even notice it until you need to do something that requires good flexibility such as bending over to pick up something you dropped.
The Benefits of Stretching and Staying Flexible
The first thing to keep in mind is that good flexibility is necessary for almost all your daily activities – from the most mundane, such as getting out of bed and self-care, to more complicated tasks such driving and dancing.
For example, some flexibility is required when you reach for something on a high shelf or turn the steering wheel. If you’re not flexible, both of these everyday tasks could be challenging and even threaten your ability to live independently.
Another very important benefit of stretching and staying flexible is the reduction of falls. Stretching may help with balance. After the age of 60, the number of falls tends to increase. In fact, falls are responsible for a high rate of disability and even death if you are over 65 years old.
With almost 70 percent of falls resulting in death among boomers, it’s important to do whatever you can to not become a member of this group!
Other benefits of stretching and flexibility include:
- Increased blood flow, which can help you better control your blood pressure;
- Reduced muscle tension, which can help you feel less tense and stressed;
- Better muscle coordination;
- Higher energy levels;
- Improved mood by aiding the release of “feel good” endorphins;
- Improved posture which can help reduce back and arthritis pain.
Even though healthcare professionals recommend stretching every day, if you’ve not done any stretching for a while, your best bet is to ease into it by starting slowly. A couple of times a week is a good start.
Also, be sure to talk with your doctor to ensure that you’re in good enough health and shape to start including stretches in your daily routine. Actually, this is also a good idea for any physical activity you may be thinking about.
Before you begin, you need to know that there are two kinds of stretching. One is called dynamic since you’re using movement to stretch your muscles. Some examples of this type of stretching are swinging your arms, doing shoulder circles, and swinging your legs or doing half squats.
The other form of stretching is called static, because you are not moving any body parts at all. You basically ease into the stretch and hold it for 30 seconds or so while breathing.
Good examples of this kind of stretching are touching your toes to stretch your back and crossing one leg over the other leg’s thigh to stretch your hips. Be sure to warm up before doing static stretching. Some walking in place – or around the block – is good for this.
If you enjoy spending time with like-minded people, consider participating in classes that focus on flexibility. These include yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi, and even walking. You can improve your flexibility and make new friends at the same time.
Nutrition and Flexibility
You can enhance your flexibility and ability to do stretching exercises by making sure your body is getting enough of the right nutrients.
Stretching involves your joints, bones, and muscles, so it makes sense to eat foods that have the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients they need to function at their best. Include the following in your diet as a complement to your stretching:
Plenty of Water to Keep Hydrated
Set a goal of at least eight glasses of water a day and keep it handy when you do your stretching and other exercises. Water helps to lubricate your joints and helps nutrients get where they need to be in your body.
Foods with Anti-Inflammatory Properties
Anti-inflammatory foods include:
- green leafy vegetables such as collard greens, spinach, and kale;
- nuts, such as almonds and walnuts;
- fish, especially salmon and tuna;
- fruits, including berries, oranges, and cherries;
- spices, including cinnamon, ginger, and turmeric.
Foods That Support Connective Tissue
Don’t undermine the importance of foods that help maintain your bones as well those that promote collagen production such as fish, red, green, and orange vegetables, berries and garlic.
By watching your diet and adding stretching exercises to your daily routine, you can help ensure that you enjoy good flexibility and all its benefits at any age.
How often do you stretch and what kind of stretches do you do? What kinds of benefits have you experienced as a result of stretching? If you don’t stretch, have you thought about it or is there a reason you don’t? Tell us all about it. Please join the conversation.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice. Please consult with your doctor to get specific medical advice for your situation.